Chapter 21: Spinach & Bricks
I was also allowed to model the characters as closely as practical to the Herriman strip, and also to closely emulate Herriman's bizarre desert backgrounds. The poetic, pseudo-Yiddish Krazy Kat dialog had to be replaced with a sort of love-sick baby-talk, but the other characters, notably Offisa Pupp and Ignatz were believably voiced by Dayton Allen.
I actually had fun doing this series, but I constantly looked over my shoulder to see if the spirit of George Herriman would zap me.
So it goes in the world of commercial cartoonery. You do the best you can, but if eating is part of your daily routine, you have to deliver something your client will accept.
Another main element in unifying these two series, animated in three different countries, was the music. With the help of my old colleague from Terrytoons and Gene Deitch Associates, inc., Al Kouzel, we further developed the pre-mix soundtrack method I first used at Terrytoons. But this was truly a home-made routine. We recorded "library" music in a sound studio for both series. There were happy themes, sad themes, danger music, chase music, bridges, accents, endings, stabs.... every kind of musical mood we could think of. We cut them all together onto quarter-inch plastic tape reels, giving each musical segment a title, and appended a list of the cues on the tape boxes. We recorded the dialog in New York and Hollywood. It happened that that at the time, Jack Mercer, the voice of Popeye, was in New York, and Mae Questel, Olive Oyl, was in Hollywood. It was beyond our budget to bring them together, so we had to record them separately, each doing half of the conversations between them. Pros like they didn't bat an eyelash at such an odd way of working. When we cut the tapes together, with their fast-moving, interacting dialog, viewers of our cartoons could never imagine that "Popeye & Olive," were actually 3,000 miles apart as they spoke with each other - and not by telephone either! (That sort of thing is routine today. Pop music tracks are often recorded individually by musicians who might be anywhere in the world.)
We also had prepared several reels of every kind of sound-effect - - stuff I had put together over the years. All of this we dubbed onto a series of tape recorders right in the living room of our Prague apartment. We first cut together all of the dialog lines, as an over-all timing guide. Most people realize by now that television is not so much a visual medium as it is an illlustrated talking medium. Tom & Jerry cartoons were real work to time, because they were basically action-pantomime films. TV cartoons are much simpler, as the characters constantly talk-talk-talk. So it was relatively easy to cut the dialog together to the required film length, just leaving appropriate gaps for sound effects and musical punctuation.
In those days of hand splicing, that is exactly what we did, intercutting the dialog, music, and effects on separate reels, with blank leader tape between each cue. We mixed the music and effects onto one track of my simple Ampex 601-2 7_ips 2-track-stereo tape recorder, and copied the dialog lines onto the other track. Of course, in those days I had to import everything - the recorders, the _" recording tape, the leader tape, the extra reels, the splicing bars, the splicing tape, the "FloMaster" pens to mark the cuts, and even the single-edge razor blades. If I'd forgotten any of the items when shopping for them in New York, I couldn't have done the job! The edited tapes were sent out to each of the production units, and "all they had to do" was animate to the tracks. To accommodate different language versions, the dialog track was dialed out and new language mixed in. Al and I had a real soundtrack production line going in my living room!
These custom projects kept us going for a couple more years, but when they dried up, Snyder managed to snag Paramount Pictures, and offered to finance a couple of pilots for their approval. (I had no idea if he was actually paying Czechoslovak Filmexport, or just promising to pay, and I didn't ask.) Anyway, our most creative phase was about to start!